In a bid to curb trade of narcotics and other controlled substances on online portals, the government has reached out to the industry, especially business-to-business (B2B) portals, sharing a list of about 400 items including narcotics and psychotropic substances to ensure their delisting from such platforms.
The industry outreach follows a probe against online B2B marketplace IndiaMART, which was investigated by the Narcotics Control Bureau (NCB) in September 2018 for listing acetic anhydride, a precursor for heroin, a senior government official said.
IndiaMART was hauled up the nodal drug law enforcement and intelligence agency last year after detection of many instances of listing of acetic anhydride, with specific trade queries from Afghanistan and Pakistan, resulting in further investigation that resulted in the agency seizing 10,000 kg of acetic anhydride in Delhi, officials said.
The agency also shared some information with its global counterparts for more investigation, they added.
“We found listings for acetic anhydride on IndiaMART from countries where there is no legal use of the substance, such as Afghanistan and Pakistan. It was getting misdeclared and would have gone out of India in the garb of motor oil. We investigated and caught 10,000 kg of acetic anhydride, all meant for Afghanistan. Four people were arrested, including two Afghan nationals,” the official said.
Following this action, the company, along with other B2B trade portals such as Exporters India, installed crawlers and blockers on their platforms to ensure delisting of such controlled substances.
It is learnt that there were some listings for the opioid fentanyl as well, which was also delisted by the portals following the investigation by NCB.
Queries sent to IndiaMART by The Indian Express related to the NCB investigation remained unanswered.
In its draft IPO document submitted to Sebi in June last year, IndiaMART acknowledged the risk of listing of such products. “… our suppliers may use our online marketplace to list products, the sale of which are prohibited, banned or subject to regulation, such as licensing requirements. For example, under the Drugs and Cosmetics Act, 1940, or the ‘Drugs Act’, and central and state excise statutes, the sale, exhibition, distribution or offering for sale of drugs (as defined under the Drugs Act) or alcohol are both subject to stringent regulation, including requirements to obtain applicable approvals and licenses from the relevant authorities,” it read.
The document added, “If such products were listed on our online marketplace, we may be perceived by the relevant authorities to be carrying on such activities without obtaining the requisite approvals or licenses,which may subject us to fines, penalties or legal proceedings. Although suppliers on IndiaMART assume liability and agree to indemnify us under subscription and other agreements that we enter with them, these contractual protections may not shield us from all potential liability.”
Taking note of the need for public-private partnership to curb the illicit sale of “dangerous substances, synthetic opioids and precursors through the surface web based e-commerce platforms”, the International Narcotics Control Board (INCB) held a workshop in Bangkok in January this year with government and industry representatives, including all leading Indian B2B and B2C web trade portals.
Subsequently, the Indian authorities held a conference in the following month to create more awareness among the industry about the trade of such controlled substances.
“Starting February, a quarterly review mechanism has been agreed upon wherein we have shared a list of 400 substances including narcotics, psychotropic substances, controlled precursors with the industry so that they don’t list them. This is part of larger interaction with the pharma, chemicals industry to ensure delisting of such controlled substances. Globally, other portals work in a similar way with law enforcement agencies. We will regularly monitor to ensure compliance,” the official said.
The INCB Report 2018 had highlighted the “growing evidence of an emerging modus operandi of drug trafficking in the region that involves the use of the Internet as a marketplace for drugs and precursors, with mail or courier services being used for delivery”.
It had also pointed to India being the “transit country for illicitly produced opiates, in particular heroin, which originate in Afghanistan and are trafficked through the country via Pakistan en route to Europe and North America (mainly Canada)”.